Contemporary Issues in Juvenile Justice


In this study, we propose an expanded theory of delinquency that integrates social learning, control, and motivationally based explanations of human behavior. We posit that delinquency occurs partly due to attempts to fulfill 3 developmentally necessary psychological needs; auton-omy, competence, and relatedness. Melding elements of 3 theories (Social Control Theory [Hirschi, 1972], General Crime Theory [Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990], and Self Determination Theory [Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2000a, 2008]), provides a better understanding of the precursors to delinquency and possible approaches to mitigating their impact. The study examines: (a) the extent to which the 3 basic psychological needs (competence, autonomy, and relatedness) are relevant constructs to discussing delinquency, (b) how the fulfillment of these needs varies in different environments (e.g., in school v. in the hood), and (c) ways to address these needs to mitigate delinquency and school failure. Twenty-seven adjudicated youths from a county deten-tion program completed a questionnaire regarding the extent to which the 3 constructs were rel-evant in their lives, and if the meeting of these needs varied as a function of setting. Seven interviews were also conducted to expand upon survey results. Findings support the following constructs: that the attitudes of youths vis-à-vis these basic needs can and will vary signifi-cantly in different settings; and that delinquency prevention and school reform will be enhanced when the basic needs of a student (i.e., to be respected [autonomy], to be engaged [relatedness], and to experience success [competence]), are met.